WINTHROP, Maine — All season, the Winthrop Ramblers have been giving coach Jessica Merrill fits of anxiety.
Sure, the defending Eastern Class C champions won 11 games. But they did so in dramatic fashion, winning seven of those 11 games by a single goal.
“It’s how we’ve been playing all season, and it’s been killing me,” Merrill said.
The important part, though, was that they won those games.
And they did it again Wednesday.
Rachel Ingram fired a shot from near the top of the circle on what was a broken play off a penalty corner with 2:25 to play in the first half, and that goal held up as the Ramblers walked off with a 1-0 win over visiting Orono High School in the teams’ Eastern Class C quarterfinal.
“I thought we had a lot of chances today, I thought we moved a lot better,” Merrill said.
“We could have cut better to the ball,” Orono senior Sherraiah Grace said. “We weren’t moving to the ball as fast as we could.”
Winthrop will face No. 2 Winslow in the Eastern Class C semifinal round, currently slated for Saturday. Winslow topped Mattanawcook Academy 5-0 in their quarterfinal Wednesday.
The No. 6 Red Riots (9-4-2) had allowed only 10 goals in 14 regular-season games this season, while the No. 3 Ramblers (12-1-2) were nearly as stingy, with 14 allowed. It was no surprise, then, that the teams battled hard on defense.
One player Winthrop had its eye on was Grace, one of the leaders of the Orono squad.
“I knew, if they got the ball to [Grace], one wasn’t going to be enough,” Merrill said. “We worked a lot, once we knew it was Orono we would play, we worked a lot on our midfield play, marking everyone and knowing where we needed to be. We based a lot of what we did in practice off [Grace].”
Winthrop controlled much of the play through the midfield. Playing in the Mountain Valley Conference, the Ramblers are used to an up-tempo, physical style of play, something that caught the Red Riots a bit off guard.
“It’s just a different style of play, they’re a very scrappy team,” Grace said.
Ingram’s goal capped an otherwise frustrating first half for Winthrop, which spent the majority of the time in the Orono end and forced a handful of penalty corners, only to fall short.
On the scoring play, the ball came in to Ingram, who typically has no problem pulling the trigger on her rifle of a shot. With little angle through the defense, she passed to fellow senior Cat Oullette. But Ouellette reversed the field and sent it back to Ingram, who drove the ball through everyone and into the back of the cage for the goal.
“Jess [Ames] inserted it, and we got it a little backwards,” Ingram said. “I’m pretty sure it came to me, and I hit it back to Cat, and then she couldn’t take the shot so she hit it back to me and I drove it in. Usually I do a push pass, but no one was really there. It was open, so I went for it.”
“We just had a defensive breakdown,” Orono coach Dodi Saucier said. “That happens. Our goalkeeper played great. We had one breakdown, but that’s all it takes in a low-scoring game.”
Orono made some adjustments in the second half, and evened things off in time of possession. The shift nearly yielded a goal in the final minutes of the contest, but Winthrop keeper Alyssa Arsenault made a pair of saves to cut down the threat. The Ramblers ate the rest of the clock with an offensive-zone possession in the game’s final two minutes to seal the playoff win.
“I really thought we were going to be able to do it,” Saucier said. “We really didn’t adjust well to the style of play. They’re a good team.”
With only three seniors, Orono figures to be back in the mix soon enough.
“I’m sad for the seniors, but we’re looking bright for the future,” Saucier said.